8 Questions CEOs Should Ask Before Investing in BI – Part 4 of 4

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Blog | May 12, 2014

8 Questions CEOs Should Ask Before Investing in BI – Part 4 of 4

This is the last in a series of four blog posts about the best practices in business intelligence and what questions CEOS should ask before investing in BI. To read part three of the blog click here.

Question 7) What business Intelligence platform provides a best fit for our organization?

We are near the end of this blog and you may have noticed this is the first time technology is being mentioned.  When organizations consider a strategy to pursue an enterprise-wide BI Program, immediate focus is placed on the BI Solution itself.  For the purpose of this blog, I have chosen to focus more on the determinants of success or failure, fundamentally to mitigate risk for the BI Platform to become a cost center versus and organizational asset.

BI solutions have matured over the last 20+ years, and subsequently offer a robust BI component feature set of tools and options.  The point here is that People and Process, not Technology are most often contributors to the level of success or failure achieved thru a BI Program. Putting all the complexity of a BI Platform aside, the fundamental mantra of BI Program success is to drive user adoption thru effective business activities on a daily basis resulting to quantifiable benefits.  The connected enterprise!  Just imagine an organization where every constituency is driven to find some kind of measurable benefit for the organization.  This is an obvious point where the Technology part comes in, but the technology is essentially dependent on People to use the platform effectively, and the Process needed to govern optimization of the platform itself to solve real business challenges.

From a Technology perspective, there are lots of choices out there and certainly all BI Platforms are not created equally.  In order to determine best fit for the organization, there are 3 primary decision drivers. These drivers are listed as follows:

1. Consideration for a Vendor Preferred strategy: Organizations will often work with a short list of vendors for their hardware. Middleware, software and professional services needs.  Many of the long-standing BI Vendors have now been acquired by solution providers such as IBM, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft.  These same solution providers also provide database solutions, middleware solutions, hardware, storage, business applications, etc.  What this means is organizations which are evaluating BI Platforms may have other solutions internally from the same BI vendor.  The vendor evaluation process will be weighted leveraging the familiarity, investment , internal skills and integration of an organizations current state footprint to the BI Vendor Evaluation process;

2. Understanding BI Usage Profiles: Understanding the profile of each potential BI constituency or business group is fundamental to understanding best fit.  Each usage profile is associated directly to the role serviced within the organization itself.  As any given role adopts BI as part of their own decision support process, there are certain behaviors or characteristics exhibited by that role.  Categorizing these characteristics allow BI Analysts to better understand choices for back end data architecture and front end BI product mix.  Information collected about each usage profile can be easily placed in a matrix and used as an input the BI Platform vendor evaluation process.

The picture below demonstrates this concept:

BI Usage Profiles Drive Platform Choices

3. Understanding the underlying BI Platform Design Philosophy: This topic may not be so apparent at first; however BI Platform architectures are optimized for certain usage profiles or usage cases in mind.  During the BI tools evaluation process, it is important to understand the core feature set – what tools are designed to do and what they are not.

Consider the following feature categories within a BI Platform:

  • Production (WYSISYG) Reporting: Developers create pixel-perfect reports or complex management reports that may require complex SQL or custom coding.
  • Business Query (ad hoc) Reporting: Power users create formatted, interactive reports (via prompting) for their workgroup or department using a standard set of query objects and metadata.
  • Online Analytical Processing (OLAP):  Users analyze data by dimensions and hierarchies in a highly interactive way by drilling down, up or across business dimensions and hierarchies by pointing and clicking.
  • Dashboards: Users select and monitor business metrics in graphical form gleaned from multiple data sources.
  • Scorecards: Users can document and monitor the execution of strategy using scorecards, strategy maps and initiative management.  Sometimes bundled with a Performance Management application.
  • Alerting & Notification: Report results and key measure values can be used to trigger a notification to a user or user group;
  • Microsoft Office Integration:  Enables business users to view BI reports in MS office (Excel, PPT, Word and MS Outlook).  Some vendors use Excel as a front end to create / view BI reports and analyses.
  • BI Search: Uses a search paradigm to help BI users find or dynamically generate relevant reports.

Usage profiles gathered in item #2 above will fall within several of the component sets above.  The BI Vendor Evaluation Process can match the Usage Profile Matrix to the component set above.
To further the discussion of BI platform design and its respective sweet spot to certain usage profiles, there is another class of BI Platforms considered as new emergent BI platform vendors using an Associative Model approach to BI.  Consider the following diagram which provides a comparison to the Associative Model.

Associative Model vs. Traditional BI Platform Approach

Under a Traditional Approach, performing navigation during an analysis exercise relies on a predefined analytical model that is presented to the user.  When performing analysis, the user will navigate the BI model using the pre-defined navigation schemes and drill paths as shown in the left portion of the diagram.

The Associative Model stores the entire data model in memory.  Every data point in every field is associated with every other data point throughout the entire model.   From every interaction, the user knows what is selected, what is associated, what is unassociated.   
Understanding and documenting your organizations Usage Profiles is a critical step to begin the process of BI Vendor Evaluation.

Question 8)  What should I do to get started?

All the questions posed within this blog form the essence of what is called a Business Intelligence Strategy Roadmap.  The BI Strategy Roadmap is a process-centric activity which organizations can perform to promote a highly effective BI Platform optimized to achieve quantifiable results to each constituency and the collective organization.  The BI Strategy Roadmap is also designed to mitigate the risks associated with BI Programs.

Major tasks within the BI Roadmap are listed as follows:

1. Organizational Requirements Collection and Consolidation:  All business intelligence platforms must be performance driven.  Key Performance Indicators must be role-based, available, reliable, analyzable (for root-cause), comparable to known benchmarks and across clearly defined organizational subject areas (dimensions);  This pre-step includes understanding clearly defined organizational drivers by organizational role;

2. Business Justification: Understanding the quantifiable and strategic benefit when prioritizing projects is critical to the process of prioritizing and selecting projects;  From a governance perspective, there must be processes in place to assess, define and monitor success when determining cost savings or ROI realized from projects;

3. Technical Feasibility Assessment:  Known requirements must be evaluated against business systems for availability, completeness, reliability and quality.  This task allows us to understand in more detail the level of effort and difficulty in fulfilling known requirements;

4. Implementation Planning (Roadmap):  Implementation and delivery goals are reassessed by the project team based on items 1, 2 and 3 above.  Project planning is further defined and communicated to the leadership team, business functional area leaders and project sponsors.  Once a general agreement to the plan has been reached, project mobilization can begin;

5. Infrastructure Planning:  As critical to information management definition and flow is to supporting strategic and tactical organizational objectives, so is the infrastructure to support usage.  Infrastructure planning includes capacity planning, identifying infrastructure integration 3rd party components, service level planning and BI component distribution;

There are several participants throughout the process of conducting the BI Strategy Roadmap.  One or two individuals are ultimately responsible for preparing the materials for the BI Strategy Roadmap document.  The overall methodology of the BI Strategy Roadmap is usually facilitated by a BI Solutions Specialist or Senior BI Analyst, someone who fundamentally understand the concepts and challenges when gathering, analyzing and preparing results represented in the BI Strategy Roadmap Document.


Each of the questions presented is predicated on industry best practices in Business Intelligence.  Collectively, the questions provide an organization with a charter to effectively prepare a BI Strategy Roadmap.  Iteration is the key – Think Big, Start Small.  The BI Strategy Roadmap provides the grand BI vision; however the focus from the very first project and throughout the course of the BI Program’s existence is to evolve the BI Program, demonstrating incremental value one project at a time.  It is a learning experience for everyone.  The value BI can bring an organization is unlimited, and maintaining focus on the People and Process facets of BI is the secret sauce to success.

To read Part 1 of the series Click Part 1

To read Part 2 of the series Click Part 2

To read Part 3 of the series Click Part 3